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Copyright

Your Rights as an Author

Because copyright protections attach automatically the moment a qualifying work is created, you unquestionably already own copyrights. There may also be some works that you created, but that belong to your employer (if you created them on the job), or to someone else (if you transferred them away, as in a publishing agreement)

As a content creator copyright law extends you the exclusive rights to do the following with your works unless you grant permission otherwise or unless your work is considered work for hire.

The law gives the owner of copyright the following exclusive rights:
  • To the work (i.e. to make copies);
  • To prepare derivative works (i.e. to make a movie from a book or to translate a work into another language);
  • To distribute copies publicly;
  • To perform the work publicly (i.e. a play or movie);
  • To display the work publicly; and
  • In the case of sound recordings, to perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.

See your institution's policies to determine if your work is considered work for hire. It is also possible that you may sign over some or all of your copyright to another person or entity such as a publisher.

You may also choose to grant others specific rights to use your content according to certain conditions via a Creative Commons license.

Infringement

If you discover your own work being used or shared unexpectedly, you may first wish to consider the possibility that someone else is making fair use of your work. However, copyright infringement (sometimes unintentional, sometimes malicious) is not uncommon. If your work is being infringed, there are a number of steps you can take.

An attorney can take direct action on your behalf, and attorneys who have special expertise in copyright may have a lot of potential solutions for you. However, attorneys can be expensive, and there are some self-advocacy steps you can take as well.

It is almost always a bad idea for a non-lawyer to send a threatening "cease and desist" copyright letter - even some attorneys make mistakes with legal threats around copyright issues, if they are not specialists. However, a polite explanation of your objection and request to stop the problematic practice can often work wonders. And if the polite letter doesn't work, you can follow up with other measures.

Many websites that host user-generated content will remove or disable problematic content if you contact their DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) agent. However, under the same rules, if the individual who uploaded the your material responds asking for their content to be restored, many sites will (appropriately - this is how the law is supposed to work) restore it. At that point, you would do well to contact an attorney with experience with copyright matters.

Don't wait too long! There is a statute of limitations on copyright claims - if you wait more than three years after you find out about the potentially-infringing use, you may not be able to take legal action. (In some jurisdictions, the statute of limitations is understood to begin at the time of infringement, not the time you find out about it! Cases in these jurisdictions expire even faster.)

However, don't rush in too quickly! It is easy to make very sweeping arguments and threats when you feel your rights have been violated, but this rarely plays out well in the long term. You may find that some infringing uses are not worth your time to pursue. Note that you cannot lose your copyright ownership by failing to police your works. People are sometimes confused about this, because you can lose trademarks through neglect, but you continue to own your copyright for the full term, or until you transfer it away.

*This infringement guide is reproduced from the University of Minnesota University Libraries Copyright website under a Creative Commons CC BY-NC license.

 

Publishing Agreements

When publishing an article or a book the publisher will usually require you to sign a publication agreement (also often known as a copyright transfer agreement). You as the creator of the work have exclusive rights to that work under U.S. Copyright Law. 

  • To reproduce the work
  • To prepare derivative works
  • To distribute copies of the work
  • To perform the work publicly
  • To display the work publicly

In order to publish your work a publisher needs access to some of these rights via either transfer of the copyright or a license agreement. Historically most publishers have required authors to sign over their copyright. Now however it is becoming more common for authors to sign over only some of their rights or to retain some of their rights through a non-exclusive license with the publisher.

When signing a publication agreement it is important to understand what rights you are signing away and which rights you are retaining if any. There may be some things you wish to do with your work such as being able to share your work with your colleagues, post copies in Blackboard for your students, publish excerpts in future works, or place in a personal website or online repository. If the terms of your publication agreement don't allow you to use your work in ways that are important to you then you can attempt to negotiate the agreement to retain certain rights. 

How to Negotiate with a Publisher

If you wish to negotiate your publishing agreement it is important to determine what rights are important to you. If the publisher won't accept your proposed changes are you willing to walk away from the publisher and consider publishing elsewhere? Are you willing to continue with the publication if you cannot retain certain rights?

More information on types of contracts and how to successfully negotiate a contract can be found through the links below.

Standard Publication Agreements and Addenda

Most publishers have standard publication agreements. Terms of publication agreements can vary highly by publisher. More restrictive agreements may require you to sign over all of your rights. Less restrictive agreements may only require you to provide a non-exclusive license to the publisher. When signing a publication agreement you should pay close attention to the terms of the contract and know which rights you are signing away and which you may be allowed to keep. 

SHERPA/RoMEO copyright policies and self-archiving provides a database of standard publishing agreements for journals. You can use this database to help determine which journals will let you retain the rights you want. 

If your publication agreement does not allow you to use your work in ways you would like or does not comply with the terms of any grants you may have received to support your work, you can negotiate with the publisher by attaching an addendum, which should be signed by both your publisher and you. The SPARC Author's Addendum is a legal document designed to help authors retain the rights to their works while still allowing the publisher the rights they need to publish and distribute the work. 

Make sure to keep signed copies of all your author agreements and addenda so you know your rights in the future.

Rights Reversion

As an academic author you have probably signed some or all of your rights away to a publisher. There may be instances in which you want to have these rights reverted back to you. For instance your book may no longer be in print through your publisher, it may not be available in particular format, or you may wish to make a derivative work such as a translation. If you do not currently have the rights to do what you want to do with your work you can work with your publisher to try and have the necessary rights reverted to you. 

1. Statutory Termination Right

According to U.S. Copyright Law, under certain conditions the transfer or license of a copyright to another party can be terminated after 35 years. The Authors Alliance has created the Termination of Transfer Tool to help authors determine if their work qualifies for statutory termination rights. 

2. Contractual Rights Reversion

The terms of your contract may already include provisions for rights reversion under certain circumstances.

3. Voluntary Rights Reversion

If your work does not qualify for statutory or contractual rights reversion, you can ask your publisher to revert rights to you on a voluntary basis.

The Authors Alliance has created a Rights Reversion Portal with information on contractual and voluntary rights reversion including tools to help you request your rights. 

 

Student Work

Students hold the copyright for works that are created for their courses. However, they may be required to share their works in certain contexts to receive course grades and course credit. Permission to use the works in other ways should be acquired from the student.

Students do not typically own the copyright to notes taken during their courses as these would be considered derivative works of the materials presented by their instructors.